On Sunday, we surprised Jeff and Sandy Lethco with a banquet after morning services to celebrate their 15 years at North Side. We shared testimonies, gave 15 gifts, and thanked God for their influence in our lives.
I spoke to many who were excited about this time, but who got very emotional during the service. They had the intention of coming to celebrate these two and then became overwhelmed with emotion thinking of how God has used the Lethcos in their individual lives and in the life of our church over the 15 years. As people stood and gave tribute to them, it was incredible to see those who have been reborn, marriages that have been saved, and lives that have been restored as God has used the Lethcos here in Greenwood.
I reflected back to the time when they came to North Side. I was entering my senior year of high school and had planned to go into the ministry. Excited to meet this big shot pastor moving to a growing church, I remembered talking with Dr. Lethco and getting to know him. Within moments, he instructed me to call him “Jeff.”
I walked away from that conversation thinking I was somebody. I’m on the in with the new pastor. Only to find out he was asking everyone to call him “Jeff.” He came as our pastor, and yet he wanted to be our friend.
Within the first few months, he asked if he could take me to some colleges and help find a spot for me to go. It was due to his influence that I went to North Greenville University where my life was completely changed. Once again, I thought maybe I was getting special treatment only to realize that he was taking time and doing special things for so many.
In a time when so many shepherds are distant from their flock, I have a pastor who understands the necessity of being around sheep. He is approachable. He is transparent. He is involved. Half of Greenwood has his cell phone number (and uses it). He has an open door policy. Not only does he counsel numerous folks in our church, but he counsels many people outside of church or from another church (because those people feel ashamed to talk to their pastor or are unable to meet with their pastor).
While many will say he’s the greatest preacher they’ve heard, I have to add that he is the most available preacher I’ve ever seen. While the church has grown dramatically over the last 15 years, his availability has changed. He is actually more approachable and more available than before.
When I think of my pastor and friend, I usually drift to Acts 20. In this passage, Paul is getting ready to leave a group of people he has discipled for years. In his closing dialogue, he highlights some beautiful descriptions of pastoral ministry:
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” -Acts 20:18-24
Paul lays it out there in the opening lines. Paul was with them “the whole time.” For a pastor to have significant impact, it is of utmost importance for him to be in the lives of the people. I know that seems simple, but it is often tragically neglected!
Look at verse 20. Did you catch where Paul taught? He taught them publicly, and he taught them from house to house! Yes, pulpit ministry is vital, but relational ministry is just as vital. My most powerful moments being discipled by Jeff has been in the conversations along the way and not from a message he delivered on a stage. You can’t neglect the sermon. You can’t neglect the pulpit. But you also can’t neglect the people.
I love that Dr. Lethco is really “Jeff.” I love watching him not consider his life as dear to himself. I adore the fact that he is committed to finishing his course and the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus. He is dedicated to testifying solemnly to the gospel of the grace of God. And for that, I am grateful.